Voices from Russia

Thursday, 26 February 2015

26 February 2015. Taking the Snow Fort… An Established Part of Maslenitsa Fun




One of the established parts of Maslenitsa fun is the storming of the snow fort. Here’s part of this year’s bash.


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

What’s Shakin’ at the Yekaterinburg Zoopark? Pugovka the Hedgehog Predicts an Early Spring, That’s What!

00 Pugovka the Hedgehog. Groundhog Day. Russia. Yekaterinburg Zoo. 03.02.15

She chose “sunny” for an early spring! That’s what’s shakin’ at the Yekaterinburg Zoopark…


On Monday, Pugovka, a long-eared Russian hedgehog at the Yekaterinburg Zoopark, promised the people of the Urals an early spring, in a local event rivalling the American holiday Groundhog Day. Handlers placed Pugovka, the Russian diminutive for “button” or “buttonette” on a mat before two separate sets of plates with her favourite delicacies, including curds, carrots, and ground meat, with the phrases “early spring”, “late spring”, “sunny”, and “cloudy”. Unable to make up her mind at first, Pugovka eventually chose “early spring”. Then, hesitating a bit between “’sunny” and “cloudy”, she ended up at “sunny”, signalling an early and sunny spring. This is Pugovka’s fourth year serving as prognosticator. A Yekaterinburg Zoopark statement noted, “This event is similar to the overseas Groundhog Day and the ancient Roman Hedgehog Day, where the animals make predictions regarding the coming spring. However, our zoopark doesn’t have a groundhog, so our long-eared hedgehog Pugovka got the job. This year, she continued her responsibility… to determine what kind of weather awaits us when spring begins”.

German immigrants brought customs to the USA that became the famous American holiday Groundhog Day, popularised around the world by the 1993 film of the same name. According to the American tradition, if Punxsutawney Phil leaves his burrow and doesn’t see his shadow, his country will have an early spring. This year, Phil emerged from his burrow atop Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania and saw his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter for North America. In recent years, some Russian cities decided to celebrate the holiday themselves, but using hedgehogs instead of groundhogs. The groundhogs used in America, the Marmota monax, only range in North America; in Russia, the hedgehog is a widespread woodland animal, having much forest and cultural lore. North American groundhogs in Russian zooparks usually sleep through the 2 February holiday, given the longer Russian winters.

2 February 2015

Sputnik International


Saturday, 17 January 2015

How to Drink Vodka with Russians… and Not Get Drunk


This is a poster for the famous Sov 1961 comedy Самогонщики (Samogonshchiki: The Moonshiners)… click here and watch it (along with another short that comes first)… there’s no dialogue… just fun. Have a drink (or two) and smile!


With the New Year just around the corner, the chance of visitors to Russia not being asked to join the locals for a few celebratory drinks is extremely slim. However, what steps should you take to make sure a traditional vodka session doesn’t leave your head spinning by midnight? RBTH offers useful tips on how best to prepare for a New Year’s feast and avoid its less welcome side effects. When it comes to stereotypes about Russia, there are few more potent than the natives’ supposed attachment to drinking vodka. Foreigners often wonder, “Why do Russians love vodka so much?” Still, with New Year celebrations upon us, another question becomes more topical, “How should you drink vodka with Russians?”

Some attribute Russians’ supposed extraordinary ability to drink a lot of vodka to genetics. However, Russians themselves say that this ability has nothing to do with biology; in fact, it’s rooted in Russian traditions. Often, Russian businessman Artyom Minayev invites foreigners to Moscow restaurants to discuss business; he’s concluded that foreigners don’t know how to drink vodka, saying, “The biggest problem with Europeans, Americans, and the Chinese is that they drink and don’t take any food immediately after. So, after a second or third shot it’s no longer possible to talk to them about work! Russians love vodka because it really does warm you up and because it goes so well with Russian cuisine. When you drink vodka, you should do it with some fatty foods, even if it’s just sour cream! You can have boiled or fried potatoes with it, bread, sausage, cheese, or oily fish. There are numerous snacks that are not at all expensive and that’ll prevent you from getting drunk”.

There are Other Secrets, Too

Many Russians, before sitting down to their New Year feast, consume a raw egg. They say that it’s the best way of making sure that one will last the whole evening and leave the table sober. However, doctors are categorically opposed to this method because raw eggs are the easiest way of contracting salmonella. If you have concerns on that score too, you can just drink a tablespoonful of sunflower oil. On his first visit to Moscow, Santiago Fonseca from Mexico made some thorough preparations for the New Year party he was going to have with his girlfriend’s friends, fearing that otherwise he wouldn’t be able to make it through the night. He said, “I’d read that fat prevents alcohol absorption, so, I drank several spoons of oil and ate two potatoes. It’s hard to believe it, but I remained sober… even having drunk a whole bottle of rather dubious vodka!” Having said that, it’s also very important not to overeat and not to eat too many starchy and sweet foods, despite the fact that fat helps you to stay sober, as they generate more work for the liver and pancreas, making it more difficult for them to process alcohol.

Vodka Etiquette and How to Avoid a Hangover

Anastasiya Knezhevich sells numerous varieties of vodka at her shop and spends a lot of time explaining to foreigners how people consume vodka in Siberia, where she’s originally from, saying, “I think the problem with foreigners is that they mix vodka in cocktails and sip vodka slowly. I keep telling them that you have to drink vodka in one go and exhale through the nose and not the mouth. That’s why Russians are capable of drinking a lot of vodka and remaining alive afterwards”.

According to Minayev, at a Russian dinner party it’s important for a foreigner to show that they’re a friendly person. To that end, it’s necessary to drink the first two or three shots, after which it’s possible to take a break to save energy for more to come. He observed, “When a foreigner is ready to have another shot of vodka, they need to take the bottle and fill the glasses of all those present. Once, I was at one dinner where a Japanese guest kept pouring vodka only into his own glass. It was so tactless that nobody wanted to invite him ever again. Incidentally, he never managed to sign the important contracts that he had come to Moscow to sign”.

If none of the recommendations above proves useful in your case, here is another piece of advice from RBTH… first thing the next morning, drink a glass of salty water or pickle brine. This is the most effective ancient remedy against hangovers and headaches… many Russians swear by it.

31 December 2014

Mariya Grigoryan

Russia Behind the Headlines



The basics of the best Russian drinking toasts

Russian hangover remedies: Cucumbers, caviar, and a bath

The top 10 requirements for a stereotypical Russian New Year

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Sputnik International Presents… Scenes of Russian Orthodox Christmas

00 russian christmas 01. 8.01.15        

Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias during Christmas Eve services at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (Federal City of Moscow. Central Federal District) RF.


00 russian christmas 02. 8.01.15

Nuns at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow during Christmas services.


00 russian christmas 03. 8.01.15

A priest and a bishop at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow before Christmas services.      


00 russian christmas 04. 8.01.15

President V V Putin attended Christmas Eve services at the Church of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin in Otradnoye (Voronezh Oblast. Central Federal District) RF on 7 January 2015.


00 russian christmas 05. 8.01.15

Visitors at the Christmas Fair in Pionerskaya Square, in St Petersburg (Federal City of St Petersburg. Northwestern Federal District) RF.


00 russian christmas 06. 8.01.15

A girl visits the Seasons Fair in Moscow Hermitage Garden.


00 russian christmas 08. 8.01.15Visitors shopping for Christmas decorations at the New Year Fair in TsUM (Central Department Store).


00 russian christmas 09. 8.01.15

Participants and guests of a Christmas Fair at the Moscow Hermitage Garden.


00 russian christmas 10. 8.01.15

Visitors watch a show at the Christmas Fair in Pionerskaya Square in St Petersburg.


00 russian christmas 11. 8.01.15An outdoor party in Kolomna (Moscow Oblast. Central Federal District) RF during the Svyatki.


00 russian christmas 12. 8.01.15

Horse-drawn troikas in Kolomenskoye (Federal City of Moscow. Central Federal District) RF during the Svyatki.


00 russian christmas 13. 8.01.15

One of the chief activities that Svyatki revellers engage in is singing carols.


00 russian christmas 14. 8.01.15

Girl divines her fortune during the Svyatki holidays in Chelyabinsk (Chelyabinsk Oblast. Ural Federal District) RF.


00 russian christmas 15. 8.01.15A girl tries to divine her fortune by examining a valenok during the Svyatki.


00 russian christmas 16. 8.01.15       

Girls divining their fortunes during the Svyatki.


Russia celebrates Christmas on 7 January due to the Russian Orthodox Church’s use of the Julian calendar. This tradition dates back to the Baptism of Rus by Grand Prince St Vladimir in the late 10th century, when Eastern Slavs first accepted Orthodox Christianity during a mass baptism in Kiev. Churches and cathedrals across the country hold long services, including the Royal Hours, Vespers, and the All-Night Vigil. Mainly a religious event, Christmas in Russia has been a national holiday since 1992. In some regions, all families, both those who attend church services and those who don’t, celebrate the occasion with a traditional Christmas Eve supper. Christmas fairs are a recent addition to Christmas celebrations in Russia. Christmas in Russia marks the beginning of the Svyatki… festivities pre-dating Christianity… that culminate in the celebration of Epiphany on 19 January. Fortune telling was one of the important aspects of the Svyatki in Russia. Today, people do it mostly for fun. Divination was especially popular among young unmarried women… they wanted to find out who they were going to marry.

8 January 2015

Sputnik International


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